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God’s Wrath

God's Wrath

I was at a service as a visitor recently and most of the pretty-trite, repetitive singing had a theology, explicitly or implicitly, of Jesus’ death draining all of God’s Wrath. God, apparently, we were singing, was able to discharge all His wrath onto Jesus and so had no wrath left for us who would have rightly deserved it. And so – “Thank you Father…”, “Praise you Jesus,…”, etc.

That recent experience followed by seeing the image above on facebook, put up by a priest friend of mine, leads to this post.

Because it just won’t do.

In my prayer last Friday, like many of you, I prayed with the most-read-that-day passage Luke 11:15-26:

Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house.

Setting one aspect of God, God’s compassion and love, to crush and vanquish another aspect of God, God’s wrath, just will not do. God is not divided.

There is a secondary, liturgy-legislation discussion here. Other churches have an agreement on what hymns, songs, chants, etc can be sung. We, Anglicans in NZ, do not. So verse by verse, as they come up on the projector screens, we, in the congregation, often have not the slightest idea what we, by our singing, are going to be assenting to next!

We do need to be honest: “God’s wrath” is in the Bible. How do we view it there?

We can think of “God’s wrath” as being our experience of the results of wrongdoing; as our experience of the effect of sin, of going against God’s loving will. Our sin, our wrongdoing, has natural, inevitable consequences – relationships are broken, the environment is devastated. We can see biblical writers expressing these consequences as “God’s wrath”.

Or, we can see a trajectory of understanding expressed as the biblical narrative unfolds – from a more primitive understanding of the one we call “God” to maturer insights. The earlier biblical material can show a more capricious deity, including bursts of wrath. In the biblical narrative we can see “God” growing out of his wrath! “You have heard that it was said, but …”

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all… God is love.

There are several models and images attempting to explain how we are saved, and what we are saved from. “Penal Substitutionary Atonement” is the term for the model that Jesus’ death sates God’s wrath which otherwise would have been directed at us. There are complex interpretations of Penal Substitutionary Atonement by erudite academics which may very well remain within the bounds of orthodoxy but, for the average Christian, including it seems the lyricists of the songs and choruses I was presented to sing, the oversimplification is not orthodox, and it presents not only a distorted, unhelpful image of God, but encourages us to grow into the likeness of that unhelpful image.

We need to examine the theology of what we are singing. How broad is it? Is it presenting only one facet of the Christian jewel? Is it encouraging the diversity of worshippers present to grow?

Thankfully, we do not believe in a theory of redemption – we believe in a Redeemer.

It may help to look at previous reflection and comments:
The wrath of God was satisfied? (with 111 comments) and
God’s wrath – satisfied? (with 130 comments)

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12 Responses to God’s Wrath

  1. Yes. We do need to keep on saying this. At our Auckland Diocesan Synod recently the youth of the Diocese obliged us to sing that vile rubbish about “the wrath of God” being “satisfied” by Jesus’ death on the cross. A literalistic reading of Scripture (as you point out) becomes even more problematic since God’s wrath is patently NOT satisfied as a quick survey of the rest of the NT will show, e.g.”Revelation 14.10:
    they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” God’s apparently got plenty more wrath to dispense where that one came from! I find Girard’s “scapegoat” theory especially as explicated by Tony Jones or James Alison, far more compelling and sans mumbo-jumbo.

    • Thanks, Ian. Coincidentally, I’m thinking towards a post on Girard’s approach. And a whole other reflection could be done on your highlighting that the youth in our Anglican dioceses appear to come from a very thin slice of youth culture and what they find theologically attracting. Blessings.

      • I’m thinking that the young folks just like the catchy tune and the general content of the lyrics. Most of them would look at you quite quizzically, “What the heck?” if you asked them about the theology of Penal Substitutionary Atonement located in the song.

        • It certainly would be interesting to question these young people about God’s wrath and “How does God save us?” Br David. Blessings.

    • Glad you mentioned this Ian, I was sad to see this brought into our worship by the young people and wonder about their theology teaching. Look forward to your follow up Bosco

  2. Your Post, Bosco, reminds us all of the tendency, on the part of many conservative Christians, to see natural disasters as the outcome of God’s Wrath for one reason or another. This is just not tenable as an ‘Article of Faith’. Nor is it compatible with the revealed discipline of science or reason.

    For instance; the HIV/Aids crsis is still seen by some as a definitive sign of God’s wrath towards homosexual rights activists; typhoons, floods and sunamis are reckoned to be inflicted because of the sinful ‘life-style’ of the local people.

    This sort of thinking simply does not coincide with the N.T. Biblical view which tells us that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-Begotten Son” to redeem, not to destroy humanity.

    What seems to be overlooked is that it was not God who put jesus to death; it was his critical contemporary co-religionists; who never really understood God’s compassion for the marginalised and the disenfranchised, for whom Jesus offered hope and encouragement. God’s Love really does ‘cover a multitude of sins’.

  3. Some years ago, I had the benefit of hearing Rowan Williams give a public lecture on the Resurrection. At the end of it, an audience member asked him whether God had to be seen as a “cosmic child abuser.” The Archbishop responded very simply: the unity of will and purpose between the Father and the Son excludes any notion of the Father punishing the Son.

    I have since found passage from F. D. Maurice’s sermons on the Prayer Book that seems entirely in the same line of interpretation, and very helpful on this point:

    “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again.” Here is the great ground of reconciliation. Here it is that the Free-will meets the Command. “I am under no stern law of Necessity, binding me to a certain act which it is physically impossible for me to leave undone. I am under a law of obedience; I cannot break that law without self-destruction. And why ? Because I am under the law of a Son to a Father, under a law of eternal Love. Here is the secret of my freedom, of my inherent power; here is the secret of my perfect, entire subjection. I could not be free except I were bound by this fetter; there is no freedom without it. I could not be obedient except I had the power of not being obedient. I should not be submitting to the control of love, but of something else over which I am entirely master. My Father loves me, because I lay down my life. That perfect internal delight which He has in me expresses itself in this act, binds me to
    this act. It would be suspended, there would be a clashing and contradiction in the eternal Unity of our Being, if I did not lay down my life. The perfect fulfilment and unfolding of that Unity is in my giving up of myself. The love of the Father sees itself, realises itself in this act, and is satisfied. Here is the
    manifestation of that love; here it shines forth full upon you; here you must see it, confess it, submit to it.”

    • Thanks, Jesse. On the twitter discussion around this post I pointed out that the cross was about changing us – not there to change God. Blessings.

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